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TBTF for 1999-03-26: Clue train

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Fri, 26 Feb 13:58:12 -0400


Contents


NSI's power grab

The Net's second most-beloved monopolist makes its move

Once there was a free and useful site called the InterNIC -- originally a US government project, the Internet Network Information Center. ISPs around the world used it daily, by hand and via automated tools, to check on names using whois and to access domain name registration forms. The InterNIC was run by the current monopolist in the granting of domain names, Network Solutions Inc.

Over the weekend of March 20-21, NSI made the InterNIC site go away. They redirected "internic.net" to point to the NSI corporate site. Need To Know [1] points out that NSI sued Eugene Kashpureff in 1997 over a not dissimilar act of Net hijacking [2].

At its meeting in Singapore earlier this month, ICANN -- the agency chartered with privatizing domain naming and numbering -- established rules [3] and a timetable [4] for opening domain-name registration to five new competitors. NSI must open its databases to new registrars on April 26.

In recent months NSI has mounted an advertising campaign calling itself "the dot com company." (Do not confuse with Sun Microsystems, who "put the dot in dot com.") Last week NSI took more technical steps to cement its central position once competition arrives. The moves generated a storm of protest from ISPs and network operators, as well as from potential competitors. When NSI unveiled a new Web site and new services and redirected "internic.net" to point there, would-be competitors cried foul [5] and complained to the US Commerce Department, which historically has overseen NSI's contract. Their complaint is that the term "internic" now means "domain name registration" to a great many people around the world (NSI would probably agree with that) and that the name should not devolve to the monopolist incumbent.

Here's what NSI did, apparently, over the previous weekend.

NSI's troubles are mounting. Yesterday Asensio & Company, a member of the National Association of Securities Dealers, issued a press release titled NSOL Possesses No Lock on Domain Registry or Registrar Businesses [9]. It begins:

Investors may be buying Network Solutions, Inc.'s (Nasdaq: NSOL) stock believing the company possesses some market advantage, recurring income or proprietary technology that has allowed it to create, and will allow it to grow, its Internet domain name registry and registrar business. We found no reasonable basis for these beliefs. NSOL's domain name business has been and remains totally reliant on a 7-year-old U.S. federal government contract, which is expiring and will not be renewed. We believe that NSOL's management has purposely disseminated misleading information, and failed to disclose material negative information, that has led investors to believe that the expiration of this contract will be postponed or that it cannot be entirely and easily terminated. Investors have also been led to believe that even if the contract is terminated, NSOL's business value will continue to grow. These expectations are baseless and false.
Note added 1999-03-30:
NSI now claims that the whois database, assembled under the US Government-funded InterNIC project since 1993, is its proprietary property.

This story notes that the government owns the trademark on the term "InterNIC." How fast can the Commerce Department move on a trademark lawsuit?

Following Asensio's short-sell report cited above, NSI's share price plummeted more than $52 over the past week to close on Friday above $106.

[1] http://www.ntk.net/index.cgi?back=archive99/now0326.txt
[2] http://tbtf.com/archive/1997-07-28.html#s01
[3] http://www.icann.org/accredit.html
[4] http://www.icann.org/timeline.html
[5] http://www.techweb.com/printableArticle?doc_id=TWB19990322S0023
[6] http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois?kd156
[7] http://www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois?kd156
[8] http://tbtf.com/archive/1999-03-01.html#s07
[9] http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/990325/ny_asensio_1.html

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Caching may become illegal in Europe

And you thought the Net was slow already

The European Parliament recently drafted [10] an anti-piracy law to protect intellectual property that has the side effect of banning Internet caching in Europe. The BBC provides a good synoposis of the ill-conceived "clause 5.1" [11]. Internet technical bodies have joined with the music industry (which lobbied hard for the anti-piracy measure) in trying to get the clause withdrawn from the legislation, but their work has been complicated by the forced resignation of the EU commissioners under charges of corruption.

Note added 1999-04-16: Newly minted TBTF Irregular David Birch <daveb at hyperion dot co dot uk> writes:
I went to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on March 10th at the invitation of a group of European telecommunications operators and addressed a group of MEPs on some topics relating to Internet regulation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of them were well informed on the topics and there was an interesting debate. My personal impression was that they know that the stuff about caching is ridiculous and it won't go through the Parliament, although I'll admit that the group I was talking to were self-selecting (in the sense that MEPs who weren't interested in or don't understand the Internet wouldn't have been at the meeting). My advice to TBTF readers is not to worry.

[10] http://news2.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_277000/277126.stm
[11] http://news2.thdo.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid%5F298000/298498.stm

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Infomediaries

Five startups each hope to be the one you'll trust with your private data

Robert Gebeloff notes in an article [12] in the Bergen (NJ) Record that Al Gore last month restated his belief that Congress needs to enact new privacy legislation:

When you have individuals filling a prescription at the drugstore, and the information is immediately downloaded into a computer network, and then sold to the marketers of other medicines, that patient's privacy has been ravaged. And it's not fair and it's not right.
One private-sector initiative that may make a difference to consumers' privacy, short of federal legislation, is a group of startups calling themselves infomediaries, which promise to put the Internet user back in control of his/her personal information. Wired profiles [13] one of the startups, Lumeria, and mentions four more that are poised to launch into the same space: PrivaSeek, InterOmni, @YourCommand, and PrivacyBank. Lumeria has been in development for a year and a half and is still weeks away from launch. PrivaSeek rolled out its infomediary service, Persona XPress, earlier this month.

The NY Times ran a strong piece [14] today about the collision of personal privacy concerns and online marketing, and the infomediaries who hope to make a buck by standing between the colliding trains.

Randy Sparkman <rsparkman at att dot net> sends this pointer [15] to an article on infomediaries he wrote that is scheduled to appear in American Outlook, the Hudson Institute quarterly.

Consumer privacy is an issue many Americans can agree on, even if they don't support legislation to protect it. But Vice President Gore may have chosen a singularly poor example to exemplify privacy concerns, according to Jon Acheson <acheson at wefa dot com>, who notes that he "used to work for a large pharmaceutical market research firm and [has] just come out from under a 5-year NDA."

What Mr. Gore doesn't seem to know is that when the individual drugstore customer's information is sold to a market research firm, all references to the individual are stripped from the data. In fact, if they can arrange it, the people who are buying the data prefer to just get the totals, so that they don't have to process the millions and millions of lines of data themselves.

The companies who buy the data don't care what you the individual consumer is buying. What they're actually using the data for is to see whether or not their sales reps are doing their jobs, so all they want is regional sales trends. The level of granularity only goes down to zip code at its absolute tightest, and even then they'll merge multiple zipcodes together if the population is low enough, both to ensure privacy and to get a decent statistical sample.

The market research companies that process the data and sell it to the pharmaceutical companies are quite aware of the privacy issues involved and are VERY scrupulous to avoid even seeing confidential information, in order to maintain trust, and avoid lawsuits and jail time. If they weren't careful, one unfavorable news report could cause their data suppliers to stop selling to them because of the negative publicity. Poof! Out of business!

Thanks to TBTF Irregulars Mick Schonhut <Mick.Schonhut at digital dot com> for pointing me to infomediaries and Monty Solomon <monty at roscom dot com> for the Gebeloff article.

[12] http://www.bergen.com/biz/geb0222199902222.htm
[13] http://www.wired.com/news/print_version/business/story/18094.html?wnpg=all
[14] http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/03/biztech/articles/01digi.html
[15] http://home.att.net/~rsparkman/html/privacy.html

space ______

Getting a handle on open source licenses

What's open, what's free, and what's neither

As Linux and the open source movement get more attention in mainstream media, many companies are declaring their own open source initiatives. In many cases these moves are accompanied by new variants on the OS licensing model that may distribute the rights surrounding the public source code in different ways.

The community consensus on what can and cannot be labeled "Open Source" is contained in this Open Source Definition [16], which was derived from Bruce Perens's <bruce at perens dot com> Debian Free Software Guidelines in 1997.

Among the recent entrants into the open source arena are Apple, Sun, IBM, and the Australian company Bowerbird Software. Here are the licenses these companies have introduced with their OS initiatives.

At Apple's announcement [21] of the open OS X, dubbed Darwin, Eric Raymond was on the stage with Steve Jobs and endorsed Apple's actions. Now three members of the open source community -- Bruce Perens, Wichert Akkerman, and Ian Jackson -- have analyzed [22] the Apple APSL and pointed out its deviations from the open source model. (This document also refers in passing to IBM's Jikes license.) The critique questions a number of points in the APSL, including

Apple has responded [23] to the criticism, saying it's sincerely trying to do the right thing here.

Note added 1999-03-27: Eric S. Raymond writes:
You neglected to mention OSI's response to the Perens/Wichert/Akkerman letter, which we believe shows that the criticisms of APSL are without merit.

This week Richard Stallman weighed in on the debate [24] and in the process made the clearest statement I've seen of why he has refused to embrace the open source initiative:

Apple has grasped perfectly the concept with which "open source" is promoted, which is "show users the source and they will help you fix bugs." What Apple has not grasped -- or has dismissed -- is the spirit of free software, which is that we form a community to cooperate on the commons of software.
Stig <stig at hackvan dot com> has analyzed [25] Sun's license and concludes that SCSL does not conform to the open source definition, but it has similarities to the Mozilla license [26], and some improvements that should be studied carefully by the open-source community.

Bowerbird's NCL [20] attempts to remedy the disconnect between the totally free variants such as the GPL [27] and the more commercially oriented licenses such as the APSL [17]. It does this by introducing a 2-year period in which the author of a work can negotiate terms for binary redistribution rights. Appended to Linux Today's article [28] on the NCL is a small amount of community commentary, all negative at the time of this writing. Thanks to TBTF Irregular Chuck Bury for pointing it out.

Finally, here are several licenses that, according to Perens and others in the community, fully meet the Open Source Definition.

[16] http://www.opensource.org/osd.html
[17] http://publicsource.apple.com/apsl.html
[18] http://java.sun.com/products/jini/licensing/
[19] http://www.research.ibm.com/jikes/license/license2.htm
[20] http://www.bowerbird.com.au/NCL
[21] http://www.wired.com/news/print_version/technology/story/18515.html?wnpg=all
[22] http://perens.com/APSL.html
[23] http://www.wired.com/news/print_version/technology/story/18541.html?wnpg=all
[24] http://linuxtoday.com/stories/4263.html
[25] http://www.linuxworld.com/linuxworld/lw-1998-12/lw-12-java.html
[26] http://www.mozilla.org/NPL/MPL-1.0.html
[27] http://www.opensource.org/gpl-license.html
[28] http://linuxtoday.com/stories/4226.html
[29] http://www.opensource.org/mit-license.html
[30] http://www.opensource.org/artistic-license.html
[31] http://www.opensource.org/bsd-license.html
[32] http://www.troll.no/qpl/

space ______

Clue train

Four online troublemakers birth an e-business manifesto

David Weinberger, Chris Locke, Doc Searles, and Rick Levine are troublemakers in the same way Martin Luther was. They aren't so much creating a revolution as announcing one. They have nailed 95 theses to the door of worldwide business. The message is: networked markets are conversations; business can join the party or become roadkill. Visit the Cluetrain [33], the site these ringleaders have raised to host the conversation. The site contains far too many appealing soundbytes to even attempt excerpting. A number of us have signed on in support of the Cluetrain [34] and you can too [35].

Here are particulars for the Cluetrain ringleaders.


   David Weinberger  self@evident.com      http://www.hyperorg.com/
   Chris Locke       clocke@panix.com      http://www.rageboy.com/
   Doc Searles       doc@searls.com        http://www.searls.com/
   Rick Levine       rick.levine@sun.com   http://www.hatfactory.com/
[33] http://www.cluetrain.com/
[34] http://www.cluetrain.com/signers.html
[35] http://www.cluetrain.com/signer.cgi

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The first e-serial novel

Will Naomi be Little Nell for the end of the millenium?

In 1840 and 1841 Charles Dickens wrote The Old Curiosity Shop and published it in installments, week by week, in his magazine "Master Humphrey's Clock." The novel found its most passionate audience in America. Serial installments arrived by boat in New York and crowds gathered each week at the docks. As the ship carrying the next installment hove into view a cry would go up: "Does Little Nell yet live?" It was answered from the decks of the approaching boat, for many months in the affirmative [36].

For his next book Naomi [37], mainstream author Douglas Clegg [38] has decided to cut out the middlemen -- all of them. No publisher, no distributor, no bookseller. (And no profit.) Clegg will email 5-8 pages per week of "a ghost story with echoes of classic chillers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nathaniel Hawthorne" free to anyone who requests it (sign up here [39], but see below). Clegg will be writing the novel over the spring and summer as it is distributed. The installments will be edited before mailing. He plans no other publication or distribution for the novel. The first episode will arrive on May 1 with 17 more to follow. Those who sign up late will be able to catch up at OneList, the site hosting Clegg's mailing list.

Clegg, a great fan of the online life, acknowledges that his is not the first novel serialized in email. The distinction he claims for Naomi is that it will be the first by a professional novelist to be written entirely during its serial distribution, in the manner of Dickens.

Unfortunately Clegg's mailing-list host, OneList, is in serious need of a clue about welcoming new members. Browsing with Navigator, I normally accept no cookies, turning them on as needed and accepting them only from the originating site. (Ad-placement companies such as Adforce, Flycast, and DoubleClick are responsible for most of the true abuse of cookies on the Web.) The OneList page you arrive at if your browser rejects cookies explains how and why the site uses them, but the explanation is disingenuous. It turns out that you can't register if you reject cookies from Adforce, OneList's ad placement service.

For more on Charles Dickens, start with The Dickens Project [40] or the less scholarly Dickens Page [41].

Thanks to TBTF Irregular Rick Treitman for forwarding the e-serial news.

[36] http://www.c-span.org/guide/books/booknotes/chapter/fc052498.htm
[37] http://www.sunflower.org/~monolith/naomi.htm
[38] http://www.horrornet.com/clegg.htm
[39] http://www.onelist.com/subscribe/DouglasClegg
[40] http://humwww.ucsc.edu/dickens/index.html
[41] http://lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/~matsuoka/Dickens.html

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Introducing Lloyd Wood's Jaundiced Eye

A new independent voice on TBTF

TBTF is pleased to host Lloyd Wood's essays on the people and trends of the digital age. He chooses to call them Jaundiced Eye, and they will appear here from time to time. Lloyd's name may not be familiar to most TBTF readers, save that segment who follow the development of space-based communications satellites; his satellite pages [42], [43] are justly celebrated. His writing is precise and his viewpoint is acerbic. Follow the links to Lloyd Wood's Jaundiced Eye: #2 -- Notes on [Donald] Norman [44], and Jaundiced Eye #1: An evening with Eric Raymond, NT personality [45].

[42] http://tbtf.com/archive/1997-09-08.html#s06
[43] http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/L.Wood/constellations/index.html
[44] http://tbtf.com/jaundiced/jaundiced-2.html
[45] http://tbtf.com/jaundiced/jaundiced-1.html

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Mouse type

Why Mac users squint

Ever wondered why Web sites aimed primarily at Windows users sometimes look to Mac users as if they had been handset by elves? Geoff Duncan, writing in TidBITS [46], explains in impressive detail

how computers can take a mildly fuzzy measurement (the point), use it as a yardstick to render characters which themselves use an arbitrary portion of their point size, and finally convey that information to a display that, in all probability, does not conform to the computer's internal imaging system.
PC and Mac text rendering systems both rely on a similar, and braindead, assumption. PCs assume their display is running at 96 dpi, and Macs assume 72 dpi. Neither asks the display subsystem how many dots per inch it is currently showing and renders accordingly. Duncan supplies this pathological example [47] of how great the disparity between PC- and Mac-displayed type can be. My real-life experience browsing from a Mac is not quite so dramatic, but this screen-shot comparison [48] (33K), taken from Dell's Web site, shows one of the many annoyances of swimming against the current in a Windows world.
Note added 1999-04-01: Nelson Minar <nelson at media dot mit dot edu> sends details of how the font-size problem manifests on Unix systems and how to fix it. See his example page [48a].

[46] http://www.tidbits.com/tb-issues/TidBITS-467.html#lnk3
[47] http://www.tidbits.com/geoff/texttest.html
[48] http://tbtf.com/pics/pc-mac-2.gif
[48a] http://nelson.www.media.mit.edu/people/nelson/misc/x-web-fonts/

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WebWasher

Blocking Web ads goes mainstream

TBTF first reported on an ad blocker, Internet Fast Forward, nearly three years ago [49]. At the time Web advertising was in its infancy and the idea of a commercial product to give users control over what ads they saw, if any, was too hot for any established company with mainstream clients. That first ad-blocking company, PrivNet, had been started by three college students. PGP bought PrivNet at the end of 1996 [50]. While PGP at the time was no-one's idea of a buttoned-down company, they nonetheless quickly buried the PrivNet technology and product.

In the intervening years the Web demographic has ballooned with users reared on television, not on a text-based and non-commercial Internet. Though Web ads are far more pervasive than in 1996 the proportion of Netizens who find them intrusive and offensive is smaller. And now companies as mainstream as Siemens dare to offer ad blockers. Siemens's WebWasher [51] is available free to individual users on Windows systems (no other platform is mentioned on the site). WebWasher's proxy server, running in a tiny memory footprint on the user's PC, strips ads and replaces them with glorious whitespace. The resulting browsing experience is soothing and speedy.

TBTF Irregular Riley Rainey sent the WebWasher pointer.

Note added 1999-03-29: A number of readers wrote to recommend the ad-blockers they use:

[49] http://tbtf.com/archive/1996-04-28.html#s03
[50] http://tbtf.com/archive/1996-12-02.html#s01
[51] http://www.siemens.de/servers/wwash/wwash_us.htm

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Heyidiot.com

Can't miss with this Internet stock

In the 60s people aspired to write the great American novel. In the 80s they pursued the great American screenplay and in the 90s the great American business plan. What kind of business plan pops out when Larry Ellison, Mitchell Kurtzman, and David Roux put their heads together? The answer is Heyidiot.com [52], which sounds so plausible it's downright scary: Hey Idiot

By focusing solely on increasing our stock price, we are able to avoid numerous management distractions and unnecessary costs associated with product development, manufacturing, sales, marketing, and support... Our marketing program is devoted to buzz -- inane opinions about Internet related activities, repeated endlessly on-line, around sushi bars, and at industry trade shows by growing numbers of successively less informed people. At its peak, monster buzz takes the form of mass hysteria... Our goal is to raise our overall share of buzz in the target audience: ignorant but affluent on-line investors and retail day traders.
Heyidiot.com offers to sell its stock to the public on the condition that each transaction execute at a higher price than the previous one. So I "bought" a thousand shares. Thanks again to TBTF Irregular Rick Treitman for the cite.

[52] http://www.heyidiot.com/mission.html http://tbtf.com/pics/heyidiot-th.gif


Notes

bul The Siliconia page [54] has been updated and now sports 56 Siliconia claimed by 78 locations worldwide. Here's what's new:
  Cwm Silicon          Newport, Gwent, South Wales
  Silicon Hollow       Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  Silicon Island (#5)  St. John, Virgin Islands
  Silicon Necklace     Route 128 around Boston, Massachusetts
  Silicon Polder       The Netherlands
  Silicon Sandbar      Cape Cod, Massachusetts
I've also split the page into four pieces; it was long past unwieldy.

[54] http://tbtf.com/siliconia.html


Sources

bul For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see http://tbtf.com/sources.html.

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_______________________________________________
Keith Dawson    dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.

___

Most recently updated 1999-04-16